Education

Families make dash for last chance at tax-free shopping deals

Sal Salvatierra and daughter, Cristina, 12, shop for school uniforms as he measures her waist by using her neck on the last day of the back-to-school tax holiday Sunday at Ibiley inside The Mall at 163rd Street.
Sal Salvatierra and daughter, Cristina, 12, shop for school uniforms as he measures her waist by using her neck on the last day of the back-to-school tax holiday Sunday at Ibiley inside The Mall at 163rd Street. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Some shelves sat empty and others held picked-through merchandise at Ibiley Uniforms and More at The Mall at 163rd Street near North Miami Beach as Sunday marked the last day of the state tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.

Crystal Jones, 33, chose navy pants for her son and red collared shirts for her daughter — students at North Glade Elementary and Ophelia EB Lawson Head Start — before heading to work later in the afternoon.

At the register, Jones spent just under $200 on the clothes — a sum she started saving for in July when she had to pick up two extra shifts a week as a security guard for a transportation company. The purchase at Ibiley, 1267 NE 163rd St., was half of what the Miami Shores mother spent this month on school supplies and clothes.

“It’s grueling,” Jones said. “I’m glad tax-free was two weeks.”

This year was the longest tax holiday since it made its debut in 1998. Last year’s break was three days.

“Last year it was too tiresome,” Jones said. “At least this year my feet don’t hurt as much.”

The law permits all clothing less than $100, school supplies less than $15 and the first $750 of a personal computer to be tax-free. Florida is one of 17 states that offers a tax-free holiday. South Florida stores also feature their own sales during the stretch, further sweetening the deals for customers.

Sal and Jenny Salvatierra waited for the tax holiday to buy a computer for their daughter, Cristina, who will start seventh grade this fall at Aventura City of Excellence School. The Miami Beach family shopped for uniforms and backpacks on Sunday, easier on the wallet than the HP computer they bought the day before. Jenny Salvatierra said they saved about $30 on the $179 computer, which Cristina needs for her studies.

“We’re hoping it gives her a head start on homework,” Salvatierra said.

Miami-Dade and Broward public schools open Aug. 24. And although that’s when most parents get the official school supply list, many just guessed in order to take advantage of the tax holiday.

Stores that sell supplies and clothing like Ross Dress for Less saw a busy weekend as the last-minute shoppers came for the deals with tax-free savings ending at midnight.

“We’ve been wiped out of our basics, our backpacks,” Ross store manager Edward Lehman said.

Employees were as busy as the shoppers. In the back of Ibiley’s, four employees worked feverishly at the embroidery machines, cutting thread and pressing patches on collars. It’s by far the busiest time of year, shift supervisor Raisa Perez said.

Uniform stores are in their busiest season embroidering school logos on uniforms. Ibiley at The 163rd Street Mall contracts with about 300 schools and produces anywhere from 900 to 1,200 shirts a day. Jenny Luna/Miami Herald Staff

To keep up with demand, the embroidery factory runs 24 hours a day, turning out anywhere from 900 to 1,200 shirts a day.

Though not all kids love uniforms, many parents welcome them.

Jones said, jokingly, that she would make her children wear uniforms even if they weren’t mandated.

“It makes it easier for me,” she said. “Uniforms are the least expensive thing I can do.”

As Jones carried two plastic bags full of solid color clothing, her daughter and son skipped, twirled and ran around the store in their summer tank tops and neon flip-flops — it’s only one more week that Patricia, 3, and Quinten, 7, will have the freedom to wear what they want for the day.

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